Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground and
Hold the Fossil Fuel Industry Accountable
The climate is in crisis. Scientists agree that we have ten years to take decisive action. If we are to have any chance of successfully staving off the worst impacts of climate change we must keep all remaining oil and gas in the ground.
Nothing will be more consequential to achieving progress on the climate crisis then the outcome of the 2020 election for president. Ending U.S. fossil fuel production and infrastructure, and holding fossil fuel polluters accountable is central to any successful climate policy. Therefore, we urge the candidates for president to support the following:
- Prevent all new fossil fuel infrastructure and the extraction of oil and gas.
- Phase out existing oil and gas production, with a planned, managed decline.
- Promote a just and fair transition for impacted communities and workers.
- Hold fossil fuel companies legally accountable for their role in causing the climate crisis.
Fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change, accounting for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Ending U.S. fossil fuel production and infrastructure, and holding fossil fuel polluters accountable is central to any successful climate policy.
No New Fossil Fuel Production and Infrastructure with a Managed Decline
If the world is to have any reasonable chance of staying below 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the next president must take bold steps to end new fossil fuel infrastructure, end new extraction of oil and gas, and phase out existing supply.
The United States has become the largest oil and gas producer in the world. Concomitantly, there has been an unprecedented buildout of new and proposed oil and gas pipelines, export terminals, and petrochemical plants that facilitate increased oil and gas drilling. Proposed U.S. oil and gas expansion by itself will make it impossible for the rest of the world to manage the safe, equitable and necessary decline of oil and gas production.
The full power of the presidency must be deployed to reverse the expansion. Policies must include an end to drilling on federal, state and privately owned lands. This includes a ban on fracking. It is understood that the president may not have the power to execute some of these policies in the short term but must make the policy a top priority to do so.
Despite the scale of the challenge, it is possible to stop the expansion of oil and gas production and avoid the associated carbon impacts. Expansion plans for fossil fuel projects such as pipelines and export terminals require new licenses and permits from government agencies which are often opposed by impacted communities. The President should take actions as needed to prevent these federal permits from being issued.
Just Transition for Impacted Communities and Workers
As the fossil fuel industry winds down there will be pain for certain communities and workers in terms of jobs and local tax base. We cannot leave behind those communities that have borne the brunt of living in and around fossil fuel extraction, pipeline and other infrastructure. While there can be no further investment in fossil fuel infrastructure or extraction, our economy will rely on fossil fuels for some time to come. That allows the president to come up with sound plans to make a just transition.
Initially, the president can issue an executive order creating an inter-agency just transition task force with a deadline of six months to create a comprehensive, multi-industry, national program that guarantees support and protection for affected communities and workers.
The task force must meaningfully consult with unions, workers, indigenous peoples, and frontline community organizations, and include the EPA, Departments of Labor, Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Interior, Defense, and other relevant agencies.
A well-planned phase-out of oil and gas production that considers the needs of workers and communities impacted by fossil fuel developments must start now to avoid climate breakdown and a deferred economic collapse. This does not mean turning off the taps overnight. Rather, it means taking climate limits seriously and intentionally planning to wind-down fossil fuel extraction at the pace required to meet them. An intentional and thoughtful phase-out approach makes it possible to create transition plans that are socially just and economically sound.
Hold Fossil Fuel Polluters Accountable
Climate polluters, not taxpayers, must pay for the costs of adapting to climate change and recovering from climate-driven weather disasters.
Fossil fuel polluters are the single greatest cause of the climate crisis and the single greatest barrier to addressing it. The fossil fuel industry had long-standing knowledge of the risks associated with their products; rather than taking steps to prevent climate change, the industry took action to conceal and deny that knowledge and discredit climate science, in contradiction to their own internal research and their actions to protect their assets from climate impacts. At the same time, these polluters and their trade associations have successfully blocked climate policies that would have provided alternatives to fossil fuels.
The next president can direct the attorney general to investigate all legal violations by fossil fuel polluters and prosecute them to the maximum extent of the law, including by supporting the nuisance and fraud suits discussed above. The attorney general should undertake the investigations so as to fully account for the government’s full range of criminal, civil, regulatory and administrative remedies. The president should also direct the Department of Justice to coordinate as appropriate with related executive branch actions discussed above, such as the Interior Department review of legal violations in the issuance of fossil fuel leases, as well as investigations and prosecutions undertaken by state attorney generals.